The Ragged Edges Of Torn Photographs
By
Lewis Smith

www.gunmetalblack.com

The fat woman behind the counter of the corner liquor store reflected on her life as the artificial sun began to dim outside. For twenty years she had run this corner store. Anything you could get on Earth, and a few things you couldn't, all at a reasonable price.

The metal bell over the door rang as someone pushed their way in. A refined man, nattily attired in a grey suit cleared his throat and asked for a bottle of Rigellian Kiral, 2162. She passed it to him and bagged it without even looking at him and took his money with her other hand, sliding it into the register with the rest. The door clinked again as the man walked out.

She lit a cigarette. Bad habit, but she figured, running a liquor store, she was already condemned. In for a penny, in for a pound. The tip glowed as she took a long drag, the smoke filling her lungs and her head went not unpleasantly light.

She let her mind drift. Another couple hours, long enough for the party people to maybe stop by and pick up some extra money before she retired to her apartment upstairs for the night.

The doorbell clinked again. But the man who approached the counter said nothing. He was even better dressed than the man before, attired in a suit so white it seemed to shine among the urban grit that characterized her little corner of Kuran Colony.

His green eyes shone despite being shadowed by long chestnut bangs. His hair trailed lazily behind him like a devil's tail.

"Hello Lil," was all he said. His voice was smooth, seductive, despite the roughness at the bottom. He opened his jacket and produced his own pack of cigarettes, extracting one of his own. He lit it with a very practiced motion and looked at her.

Her face was a mask of shock. "Kienan . . ."



Kienan Ademetria had met Jayla Kyren almost by accident. The man he had been trailing that night was attending a party for a noted artist who had been touring the Outer Colonies with his work. He watched his mark from across the room.

"Excuse me," a young attractive blond woman said, moving elegantly past him, her languid figure looking like a shadow in her tight black party dress. She looked away from him, preparing to move on, then she stopped, regarding him curiously.

"Nice hair," she said, gesturing to his braid.

"Thank you," Kienan said quietly.

"I don’t think I've seen you here before," she said, her eyes looking over his face for any glimmer of recognition.

"No," Kienan said, discreetly looking past her. "This is my first time. But if I had been, I certainly would have remembered you, Mrs--?"

"Ms." Jayla corrected. "Jayla Kyren."

Kienan took her hand and kissed it. His eyes stayed locked on his mark. His conversation was ending and he seemed to be moving toward an exit. "Kienan Ademetria. It's a pleasure to meet you."

"Ademetria," Jayla said. "No, I've never heard the name. And I've been at enough of these to know everyone." She looked over at someone on the other side of the room who was trying to gain her attention. She looked from Kienan back to them and frowned.

"Look," she said, disappointment clouding her face. "I'm sorry, but my friends over there seem to wanna spend some time with me." She reached into her purse and pulled out a small thin card. "But give me a call some time, huh? You've gotta tell me how you keep all that hair so clean." She gave him one last, bright smile from over her shoulder as she turned to leave.

Kienan smiled, despite himself and watched her leave. As he did so he began discreetly moving towards the same exit that his target was going for. He chased him like a shadow through various antechambers to the men's restroom. Kienan, several yards down the hall, bent down to see to his shoe.

He turned the heels to the side, withdrawing small pieces of metal from them before turning them back. He snapped them together as he rose up from the floor, reaching into his cigarette case. Inside he found two more pieces of metal, which he very quickly snapped together as he entered the bathroom.

Kienan discreetly looked under the stalls. He had long ago chosen this place and had made sure to take notice of the man's shoes in advance. This man had double-crossed his employers by shipping their merchandise to a very dangerous sector of space.

And that demanded an example be made of him. There was someone already within his shipping company who was handpicked by his employers to be more . . .amenable to their directives.

Kienan waited for two men to leave and then locked the restroom door and knocked on the man's stall.

"Excuse me," he said, disguising his voice. "Leland Carver? I was told to bring a message to you."

"Yes?" Carver said uncomfortably. Obviously, he was having trouble.

Kienan kicked the stall door open with such force that Carver's head snapped back against the blue-tiled wall, his broken nose issuing blood like a sanguinary waterfall. Kienan waited until Carver was looking at him and then used the device he had assembled.

"No one goes against the Blue Dragons," he said.

Carver's chest jumped three times as the device injected three spikes into his chest. Kienan shut the door to the stall and walked to the sink. He turned on the faucet and dropped the injector inside, fishing a capsule out of the inside of his shirt cuff.

Inside the stall, Carver was dead. The chemical coating on the spikes had turned his blood into hard resin.

He cracked it over the device, and in a froth, the device was consumed. He shut off the faucet, straightened his jacket, unlocked the bathroom door and walked out, fishing Jayla's card from his pocket as he walked out of the building.

Tomorrow, he thought. I think I'll call her.



The shapely woman hovered over Gao Shu much like others had before him. Those times, of course, had been because had wanted it that way.

This time, it had more to do with him being forced.

Gao had a whip wrapped tightly around his neck and a gun pressed at his temple. The blue-haired woman holding both these implements looked down on him with a combination of disdain and unrestrained rage.

"Where are they?" She demanded.

"I don't . . .I don't know what you’re talking about . . .!" Gao said, his head suddenly feeling.

"The hell you don't!" The woman screamed in his ear. "You know what I want. Jayla's things! I know that after she killed herself you had them sent away. I want to know where they are."

"Don't . . .know," Gao said, sweat staining his bald head. His fat-fingered hands clenched and unclenched as he fought to keep breathing,

"All right, god damn it," the woman said. She moved the pistol away from his head and shot him in the shoulder. Then she replaced the pistol at the back of his head.

Gao started to cry despite himself.

"Are you going to tell me?"

He nodded. The whip around his neck slacked up a bit. He gasped and fought the urge to throw up from the pain.

"I . . .had them . . .sent . . .to a . . .depository on the western side colony," Gao gasped. "Same place I'm instructed to . . . send the cut of my take to the Blue Dragons. They were requested."

"Good," the woman said, unwrapping the whip from his neck. "I knew even a fat gutter pimp like you was good for something, Gao. But I'm going to kill you now, anyway."

Gao tried to rise, but his shoulder wound kept him from doing so. The woman quietly raised the gun.

"Why?"

"Why?" The woman repeated, drawing the hammer back. "Because I loved Jayla, even when you were whoring her out to every single degenerate in the colony. She had such love, and you did everything to kill it."

"Is that . . .the only . . .reason, Sauvage?"

"No," Sauvage said, shooting him. The loud report of the gunshot seemed to suck the rest of the sound out of the room. "It's also because I'm not the only person looking for them."



"Rough night?" Sauvage said, gently dabbing the grime from Jayla's face. They sat on Sauvage's bed, Jayla had tucked her knees in close to her chin. She nodded curtly in answer.

"Well," Sauvage said, feigning cheerfulness. "I'd like to tell you it gets better, but I'm not sure it ever does. Here, let me get the other side of your face."

Jayla slowly turned as Sauvage dabbed around the large bruise on her cheek. Jayla winced a little as she did so.

"Well," Sauvage said. "I knew there was a pretty lady underneath there." She searched Jayla's face for a sign of a smile, but there was none to be found.

"You look way too classy for this place, you know," Sauvage said. "Too young. How'd you end up as one of Gao's girls?"

Jayla's eyes closed tightly as she started to cry. Sauvage gently wrapped her arms around her as Jayla cried into her chest, her arms beginning to open wider and embrace her.

"Shhhh," Sauvage said gently. "It's all right. You don’t have to tell me right now. Just let it all out."

Jayla's body was wracked with the force of her sobs, as though her demons were invisibly thrashing her body. Sauvage looked down at her, at the bruises on her back. It didn't seem right that someone so beautiful should have to suffer this way.

Jayla made her way up Sauvage's body, slowly reaching out to touch her face. Jayla's blue eyes met with Sauvage's sad grey eyes as she drew her close and kissed her, deep and passionately. Sauvage didn’t resist a bit, and spent the rest of the night loving her, perhaps as she had never been loved.

Except once.



"You called me up just because you need a place to stay?" Lil asked incredulously. She poured another two shots from the bottle. Kienan took his and slammed it back immediately. Lil had often been fascinated by his ability to power back any kind of liquor, even something as strong as Siridar Dragonsblood.

"Yeah, for a couple days," Kienan said. "One of my informants told me they'd found some of Jayla's things. Of course, that was two days before he ended up dead in one of the recycling canals."

"You didn’t bring your ladies?" Lil asked.

Kienan shook his head. "I wanted to handle this on my own. Besides, if someone's killing my informants, that's two more targets. One on one is how I intend to deal with this."

Lil poured two more as Kienan lit a cigarette. "I can’t believe you’re still chasing that girl. She's dead Kienan. She's been dead for two years now. Let her go."

Kienan exhaled his cigarette smoke and took another shot. "Not as simple as that."

"There's more you aren’t telling me," Lil said, pouring two more shots. "Figures. You know, that's why you drove her away in the first place Kienan. You never told her the whole truth. You never tell anyone the whole damn truth. And then you act surprised when they fall through the holes trying to get to you."

Kienan took another shot. "Keep going. It's not every day I get psychoanalyzed by a liquor store owner."

"Say what you want," Lil said, drinking hers. She wiped her mouth as she set the shot glass back down. "But it's a pattern with you. You drove Silhouette away with that same--"

"Leave her out of this," Kienan interjected, stubbing out his cigarette.

"Jayla was the same way," Lil said, looking dead at him. "You never let her all the way in, and after awhile she just got lost in that limbo. And it good as killed her."

Kienan looked at her, and poured two more shots and drank both.



"I always imagined you as a professional jewel thief," Jayla said, relaxing in Kienan's arms. Her pale naked skin made for an odd contrast against his deep golden tan. They were in her apartment, in truth, they were never anywhere else. They were sitting on her bed, wrapped in the sheets, in the aftermath of lovemaking.

"You have a very romantic view of my profession," Kienan said.

"Well, you never tell me anything," Jayla said, looking up at him. "I seem to be spending more and more of my time waiting up for you, waiting for you to call. I don't know anything about you, except for one thing."

Kienan lit a cigarette. "What's that?"

"I love you," Jayla said. "You make me feel like a person."

"I love you too, Jayla," Kienan said, taking a drag on his cigarette.

Jayla was quiet for a few minutes.

"You’re not married are you?"

Kienan laughed. "No."

Jayla sighed. "Well, neither am I. That's why my mom sent me out here. She said I needed to find a husband of quality. I wonder how she'd feel if she knew I'd picked you?"

Kienan took a thoughtful drag on his cigarette. He had thought about telling her about what he really did, but every time he did, his rationalizing mechanisms kicked in. He had to protect her, after all. If she knew, it could make her a target for his enemies.

And he didn’t want to risk her life any more than he was already by being with her.

Jayla poked him in the ribs. "You OK?"

Kienan nodded. "Just thinking."

"About what?"

"About us," Kienan said, dragging on his cigarette. "About what I want for us."

Jayla moved around to look at him. "I just want us to be together."

"So do I," Kienan said. "What if I were to tell you I would leave it all behind?"

Jayla looked at him, caressing her face. "For me?"

"For us."

"I wouldn't know what to say," Jayla said. "Except that it's what I've always wanted."

Jayla pulled him closer, stubbing out his cigarette and kissing him deeply and passionately. Kienan returned the kiss and began caressing her, feeling her desire arcing off of her body. As the daylight gave way to night, Kienan made love to Jayla, strengthening his desire to change his life.



The next day, Lil walked downstairs and went about opening the store. It was only a few seconds later that the doorbell jingled. Lil looked at the statuesque woman who walked in the door.

"You’re my first customer," Lil said, covering her surprise. "What can I get you?"

"I'm not here for anything," she said, brushing her blue hair out of her face. As she moved closer to the counter, Lil caught sight of the pistol holstered at her side and her hands quietly reached for the sawed-off shotgun she kept under the counter.

The woman whipped her pistol out and leveled it at Lil's face. Lil froze like a deer caught in headlights.

The woman tossed a photograph on the counter. Lil looked down at it. It was a picture of Kienan and Jayla, that much she knew. From the looks of it, the woman had tried to tear it in half and had only succeeded a little. A long cruel tear split the image of Kienan and Jayla.

"I know he's here," she said, the gun still on her. "Tell him tonight, at Gao's old place. Tell him if he wants 'em he's gonna have to take 'em from me."

Lil nodded.

"Tonight," she said. "Nine O'clock."

Lil looked at her, her face relaxing. "Can I at least give him a name?"

"He knows who I am." The woman smiled, told Lil her name and backed out of the door.



The water in the bathtub made a peculiarly hollow noise as it echoed through the small flat. Sauvage opened the door and walked through smiling. She hated her new job, but it beat whoring, and it allowed her to spend her nights with Jayla. It was hard to believe the same sad-eyed woman who she had helped through a night of rough sex six months ago could be so willing to love her.

She had tried very hard not to question that too much, because she was afraid it could all be taken away so quickly. Life had a way of doing that to her, she noticed.

"Jayla," she called, closing the door behind her. "Get dressed! We're going out someplace special tonight! Your number one girl made a hell of a lot of money today!"

She listened for a reply for five minutes. Finding none, she called again.

Nothing. Just a slight noise.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Sauvage stopped for a second. Why would Jayla be taking a bath this early?

She made her way into the bathroom. As she swung the door open she glanced at the scene before her, she shut her eyes, as if forcing her mind to show her something, anything, but what it had seen.

But despite her will and the hot tears, which were even now being squeezed from her eyes, the tap continued to drip.

Slowly, Sauvage opened her eyes again.

Jayla sat in the bathtub, the water perfectly still. She had obviously been in there for a few hours, because her skin was wrinkled, not just her fingers and toes. Her arms hung limply out of the bathtub, and just out of reach of her fingers was a bottle of pills.

Sauvage picked it up. They were hers--downers. She had been taking them because it helped her calm down after work. It helped her forget. The bottle was empty. Jayla had taken all of them.

How many had there been? Sauvage wondered. She couldn’t remember. She felt along Jayla's hands for some sign of life.

Nothing.

Sauvage screamed as she pulled Jayla's body from the tub, tears flowing from her eyes with no impediment at all now. She held Jayla close to her, trying to will her back to life.

But no matter how hard she cried, it never happened.

So she screamed.



Kienan walked into Gao's house with no illusions about what was going to happen. He had traded his white suit of the night previous for his work clothes--a black bodysuit covered by a red vest, red gloves, black boots, and blue pants. His twin custom machine pistols were holstered around his waist, safeties off. He brushed his bangs from his eyes.

The house was quiet, which in itself was a shock. Kienan kept his senses sharp. Whoever was waiting for him had set this up awhile before. They could have any number of surprises waiting for him.

Kienan made his way up the staircase. He heard something above him, the squeaking of floorboards. He looked up above him.

Sauvage leapt over the railing and fell on him, pushing him back down the stairs. Kienan grimaced as he tumbled down the stairs, trying to keep his body loose so he didn't break anything. As his shoulders hit the floor, he drove his knees into Sauvage's stomach and threw her off of him. Sauvage hit the wall and rolled to her feet, a bit unsteady. Kienan snapped back up to his feet, drawing his pistols and firing on her.

Sauvage leapt down, taking her whip off of her hip as he fired. Chunks of walls exploded as the gunfire sawed through them. She slid along the dirty floor of the whorehouse, snapping the whip at his hands. The whip wrapped around Kienan's left wrist, and she leaned backwards, trying to keep him off-balance long enough to keep her from taking a shot at her.

Kienan struggled against the whip. Despite being stronger than she was, she had the advantage in leverage right now, and fighting against it wasn't going to help anything.

Instead, Kienan threw his body against the taut whip, and rebounded off of it, giving him momentum enough to drive his fist into Sauvage's face. She dropped the whip almost immediately and fell back against the wall, on her feet, but totally dazed. She put a hand to her face and tasted the hot coppery smell of her blood.

That was all the time Kienan needed to get his guns again. In the blink of an eye they were pointed at her.

"I'm only asking this once," he said coldly. "Where are they?"

"You don’t need me to tell you that," Sauvage said, whipping out her own pistol. Kienan shot struck the wall next to her head and left a hole as large as her head. Her own shot struck the banister of the staircase and blew it apart.

Kienan brought both guns to bear and destroyed the rest of the staircase, the hail of bullets finally tagging Sauvage in her knee and her right arm. She tried to hang on to her pistol, but the pain was too great and her hands were now slick with blood. She slid down the wall, her ruined knee unable to support her.

"Now," Kienan said, keeping his guns on her. Sauvage tried to reach for her whip, but Kienan kicked it away as he stepped over her, leaving his foot on her pistol. "Where?"

"Where do you think?" Sauvage screamed, with a fury borne of her pain and from the fear of this man. "In her room! Where you left her to rot! Where I found her and tried to save her goddam life! I loved her, did you know that?"

"So did I," Kienan said.

"Not enough to keep her from sinking into this shit," Sauvage said. "I tried to save her. But all she ever talked about was you. I thought she loved me, but when I opened that god damned box, I knew that I was never in her heart at all. You were."

Sauvage looked at him ruefully. "You've won again," she said. "I'd hoped maybe if I sent you to hell her spirit could rest and I'd find her and she could love me . . .but you've fucked that up as surely as you fucked up her life."

Kienan's green eyes narrowed on her as he holstered one of the pistols and picked up hers. He checked the number of bullets inside the clip. Then he turned and fired four shots into the far wall. He checked again.

One bullet.

Kienan handed the gun back to her. "Go to her," he said. "Be happy."

Sauvage started crying as Kienan made his way up the stairs. Sauvage pointed the gun at the back of his head as he made his way up the stair. Kienan stopped and put his right hand on his gun.

"You can send me to hell if you want," Kienan said. "But living is enough punishment for my sins. What will you gain? Jayla will still be dead, and neither of us will be any happier."

Sauvage lowered the gun, laying her hands in her lap. Kienan walked the rest of the way up the stairs. Gradually, she brought the gun underneath her chin. It was harder and less natural with her left hand, but the right hand was too slick with blood and it hurt too damn bad besides.

She leaned back against the wall and thought of Jayla. She thought of the first time that she had seen her smile, of the first time they had made love, of the first time she had lain close to her.

Then she pulled the trigger.



Kienan opened the small ebony box, not flinching a bit when he heard the gunshot. He had meant what he said, to a point. Jayla was dead, as they had both known her. And living without her and seeing what she had become was the stuff of nightmares for Kienan.

But, he hoped, having something of hers would make a difference, would help to put the painful memories in some kind of order, so he could get on with it.

He opened the box. The naked bulb overhead cast long shadows over everything. He reached his red-gloved fingers inside and lifted it out.

Torn to shreds. Every single picture had been shredded with almost methodical fury.

Kienan would have laughed at the irony any other time. But not it just seemed cruel, painful and oddly just. Sauvage had gotten her revenge. She was with Jayla beyond the veil, and Kienan was left alone. The memories of past love existing for him only in the memories on the ragged edges of torn photographs.